So 2020 was a great big yikes, wasn't it? Who would've known that things would go south the way that it did? I guess, Bill Gates, in that one Tedtalk video. But nobody else, probably! And how we've rued not taking heed of the dude's Tedtalk. But I feel that I am getting ahead of myself. Ehem.
Every year for the past handful of years, I've done a month-to-month wrap-up of the things I've done throughout the year, so that I may remember the year that was, and document it for my future self's reading pleasure. And I shall be doing it in this post. Will it turn out to be in two parts like in previous years? I doubt it, but let's see!
Ahh, January. Such wonderful times. A time of blissful ignorance. So naive. So young. So free! I kicked off the year by playing a New Year's Eve show (live shows, remember those?) with Pasca Sini at Impero Studio, Ara Damansara. We ended up playing like an hour or so late. We dressed up in button ups and blazers. We really wanted to play a good show. We played an alright-ish show. Kami dah mengantuk, semua orang lain dah mengantuk, tapi tibai ja lah. Oh how I miss it. HOW!
January was also when I first read and rehearsed for the first of only two theatre productions that I'd be involved in throughout 2020, 24 Jam Dalam 37 Tahun (directed by Chris Ling and written by Khairi Anwar). I remember bawling the first time we did the read at Lot'ng. There's this one sequence where the main protagonist (played wonderfully by Shah Shaha) was asking my character at that moment (his father) like 50 questions back to back to back. It really did me in real good. We started rehearsals on the 29th of January and continued to rehearse until the first of March.
We also experimented with the first iteration of the Pinball Monkeys Podcast around this time. We did a few recording sessions, but we were happy with none of them, so they ended up never seeing the light of day. Having said that, I still had a good time recording them. Lots of laughs were had. Cumanya the episodes became unwieldy and hard to figure out, jadi we didn't feel comfortable putting it out to the world. We'd finally figure out how to do it later in the year during lockdown.
I was also a guest on Syafiq Syazim's podcast called Dramatic Dialogue where he speaks to people mostly in the local theatre scene about their experiences and thoughts on theatre and the arts in general. I really like guesting on podcasts, and I aim to be a Paul F. Tompkins in the local podcasting universe, meaning that I want to be in any and all podcasts made round here if I can. I was still working at Thelaki at the time, so he came by Sri Pentas and we recorded the episode there.
I played one Making Shit Up show and one Pinball Monkeys live show at The Joke Factory in this month, both of which very fun, I'm sure. Masalahnya I don't remember what happened in those shows anymore, such is the temporal nature of improv shows. But I do know how they made me feel, and they made me feel amazing.
A lot of February was taken up by rehearsals for 24 Jam Dalam 37 Tahun. I was around Lot'ng a lot, with my fellow actors Shah Shaha and Anissa Azis. We worked through the play, sorted ourselves out and became as prepared as we could've been going into the staging of the play that would happen the following month. It was my first time playing multiple roles in one play, and I've always wanted to do that. I've always seen it as a rite of passage towards becoming an actor. I've always, in my own little head thought that I wasn't a real actor until I can bawak multiple roles in one play, and I'm super glad that I was entrusted with doing just that by Chris.
I was also an extra in two music videos in this month: for Ariff Bahran's Usah and for The Venopian Solitude's Camaraderie. The shoots happened on consecutive days in one weekend. Quite the busy weekend, but it was fun and nice to be on a set with friends.
Pasca Sini played our final pre-Covid show on the 28th of February. It was called Jenuh Kampoi, and we played at Tala Records in Gasket Alley PJ. It was a cool show with cool people. Kami macam biasa, tak tight, but we had fun. The show was supposed to be the first of many many shows that we planned for our 2020 nationwide tour to get the word out about our debut album (that would eventually be released in November 2020) and we were supposed to be on tour with I Lost The Plot and Timemachine, and it would've been such a nice string of shows, I'm sure. Tapi apakan daya. Kita hanya mampu merancang, gitu.
The month it all went downhill. But not before having a few highs in store for me!
I did my first ever BFM radio interview to promote the play 24 Jam Dalam 37 Tahun with fellow actor Anissa. I relistened to the recording of it, and I feel like the first half was rough in terms of me being able to give good answers to the questions asked by the DJ (Sharmilla). But I finally got to set foot in the BFM office, and they have like the best pantry, it's so cool, and the view is so nice, I was super jealous as Ripple's pantry wasn't even half as good.
We started our staging of 24 Jam Dalam 37 Tahun on the 5th of March, and it lasted two weeks (taking Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off). We put up eight shows, and I think all eight shows (or maybe it was seven?) ended up being sold out. That was a first time for me too, to have a sold out run of a show. It felt great and gratifying. I think it's the best play I've ever been a part of to-date. We had plans to re-stage it later in the year, but, y'know, Corvid.
In the play I got to play five different characters, and figuring out how to pull that off was a challenge, but I managed it. It was such a satisfying experience, to embody the characters and tell the story of Haikal to a willing audience. The play ended up moving many people to tears, just like it did when I first experienced it. There's so much heart and honesty in it, it breaks your heart. Khairi wrote a super powerful piece, and Chris directed it immaculately, as one would expect from the great Chris Ling. Shah's performance as Haikal was amazing, Anissa did a great job, the sound design by Kir was onz, the theme song made by Takahara Suiko was spot on and the set made by Adry was cool esfak. It was great all round and I'm super grateful to have been part of this production.
While the play was going on, I squeezed out some time to play with Pasca Sini at Gasket Alley again for a very pop punk heavy show. We wore Oasis-inspired clothes and covered Don't Look Back In Anger, because Oasis are pop punk as fuck. I also got to send my youngest brother off at the airport for him to fly to Romania. He did a semester over there under a student exchange programme thingy, and it was cool to see him study oversea like that (although because of Corveid, he ended up doing all of his classes online. Kesian kat dia). It was interesting to be at the airport at the start of Covid. It was the emptiest I had ever seent it. It felt very ominous.
A day after we wrapped the 24 Jam Dalam 37 Tahun production, the government announced the first Movement Control Order. That was huge news. We were very grateful that we were able to conclude our production before the announcement. Throughout March, we were already macam was-was about everything dah. Sanitizing our hands all the time, sanitizing the Lot'ng blackbox before every show. And then the MCO was announced, and we were to work from home until further notice. We'd never done that before at Thelaki, so it was interesting to me to see how we would navigate having to still make video while being at home. We figured it out, of course, and made quite a few videos from our respective homes. I like this one in particular, where we talked about our daily routines when working from home.
I remember the first time I went on a grocery run during the first MCO. I was staying at my in-laws at the time and I was given a list of things to get. I went to Aeon and Tesco to find all the things that were in the list. I remember the line at Tesco being super super long because of the limit in the amount of people allowed in the shopping area at any given time, as well as the social distancing that was required of us while in the line. I waited like an hour and a half kot kalau tak silap, just to get into Tesco.
This was the time that felt most apocalyptic to me. Everything was familiar, but surreal. Seeing all the shops closed like that. There was palpable fear in the air, and everyone was extra careful with everything. But there was also a sense of "we're all in this together"ness whenever I made eye-contact with strangers. Like we were saying to each other, "stay away from me, and together we'll beat this thing." It was weird, and cool, but mostly strange. I remember listening to the latest episode of The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green at the time and feeling like "Fuck, this is really happening. Fuck." But at the same time, "we'll get through this. It'll be a while, but we will get through this." I really recommend you listening to the episode, it's great.
I didn't like this period at all though. I didn't know what to do with myself. I struggle with staying inside all day everyday. It made me realise just how important being out and about was to me. I am a much more social creature than I give myself credit for.
I ended up giving myself the goal of writing a play script in two weeks. I met my goal and shared it with one friend so that they made me accountable. The first draft is finished, and I have no idea when I'm going to get started on its second and subsequent drafts. But I finished writing my first ever play script, so that is one thing to feel grateful about.
Well, looks like I've run out of gas here. I'll continue with part 2 esok, I hope. Have a happy new year everyone. May the next year be much much better than this one.